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Do Hate Crime Laws Do Any Good?

There's no indication that getting hate crimes on the books actually prevents them.

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The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, for example, called the death penalty a "state-sponsored brutality that perpetuates violence rather than ending it," saying, "It is long past time to send a clear and unequivocal message that hate violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people will no longer be tolerated -- but it must be done in a way that saves lives, not ends them."

But in a country with largest prison system in the world and the toughest sentences on the books, this discomfiting run-in between supporters of tougher hate-crimes legislation and the "ultimate punishment" seemed almost inevitable.

Indeed, it is emblematic of a fundamental flaw at the heart of hate-crimes legislation: Human rights groups that lobby for tougher sentencing may believe that, despite all its ugly dimensions, the criminal justice system can be used for more noble ends, to force bigoted elements within society to change and to protect vulnerable communities. But at the end of the day, it amounts to the same classic "tough on crime" canard, just tailored to more liberal sensibilities.

Liliana Segura is an AlterNet staff writer and editor of Rights & Liberties and World Special Coverage.

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